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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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RETHINKING THE GFF’S PLAN FOR LEAGUE PROFESSIONALISATION

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By Sadibou Kamaso

The recent publication by The Gambia Football Federation requesting the services of a consultant to develop a business plan for the professionalisation of the current and longstanding amateur league is far too important to be relegated into oblivion and therefore in my considered opinion, it deserves comment and critique.

There is no doubt that the said publication elicited diverse opinions among the stakeholders (primary, secondary and tertiary).

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For those with moderate understanding of the dynamics of Gambian football, it may look plausible, very timely and the right approach.

However, those with fruitfulness of thought will have no trouble in realising that the publication was the product of a carefully calculated move not only to cover their deficiency of ideas but also to waste the federation’s resources that could have been spent on the numerous incomplete infrastructures, one of the key impeding factors of the league reaching professional stage.

Professionalising the current amateur league without standard playing pitches is practically impossible and one expects those players to play on the current poor pitches only for them to get injuries costing their clubs much more money in rehabilitation of their players, and for some even career threatening.

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Secondly, in order to attract sponsors to televise matches, the pitches or playing surfaces must look presentable and attractive to viewers.

It is important to address the GFF’s concept of stakeholders. Recently, the GFF leadership referred to the voting delegates (first and second division clubs, regional football associations and allied associations) as the only stakeholders in Gambian football.

This is a deliberate and calculated move to mislead and misinform the Gambian population that their opinions do not matter on any issues touching and concerning football. It’s about time the GFF understands that every Gambian or non-Gambian in this country has a stake in Gambian football and so has a right to their opinions and such opinions matter in moving Gambian football forward.

The level of stake held by every Gambian varies according to their level of participation in football matters but in reality, everyone from the club owners, administrators, players, coaches, technical staff, fans, business owners or prospective sponsors who would sell their products before and during matches, and so forth, have a stake in Gambian football.

It is also worth reminding the GFF leadership at this point that the federation is not a private entity contrary to some statements made by senior officials at Football House.

It is called “The Gambia Football Federation” and not “The Voting Stakeholders’ Football Federation” or “The Members of the Football Federation”.

Entities bearing the name The Gambia cannot claim absolute privacy. If the GFF was indeed private, why would they be given government resources to run national teams or even ask the general public for financial support to participate in tournaments?

It can strongly be argued that the main reason the GFF struggles to raise funds from the public or attract any major sponsors for the national team is because of lack of public trust and the federation’s lukewarm reception towards public opinion.

Studies have shown that fans play a very crucial role in the success of football and their absence especially during Covid-19 pandemic threatened the survival of many clubs.

The motivation, loyalty and behaviour of fans have a significant correlation with the achievements of football clubs. In fact, they provide essential support and contribute to the overall atmosphere and excitement of the game hence the need for them to be seen as very important stakeholders.

This, in my opinion, calls for the GFF to start listening and taking in the views and opinions of every Gambian moving forward. Has the GFF leadership wondered why the general public chose not to donate towards the Afcon 2023 campaign?

Coming back to the issue of professionalising the league, the GFF in its publication requesting the services of the said consultant highlighted the background, scope, terms of reference and the consultant’s requirements for the consultancy.  Now while the idea of hiring the services of a renowned consultant is indeed a brilliant one, it is also very much in order to question the rationale behind hiring a consultant for the following reasons:

1. What happened to the report, concept paper and translated copies of statues that were prepared and shared with the GFF leadership after the professional league study tour at the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) in Morocco by Second Vice President Ebou Faye, Competition Director Baboucarr Jobe and my humble self in 2020? It is important to mention at this point that the GFF paid for the air tickets and refunded allowances upon our return but the accommodation, local travel and other incidental expenses in Morocco were borne by the FRMF. I can remember presenting the aforementioned documents at an executive meeting and being asked if this was doable in The Gambia which to me was a clear and blatant sign of a lack of interest in the matter.

What happened to all the efforts, time, resources and training invested by the UEFA Assist Programme team, which worked with the GFF and the clubs in September 2021 on building the capacity of both the federation staff and the clubs towards the path of professionalisation of the league? Again, it is noteworthy that the UEFA Assist Programme is designed by the European football governing body to assist the GFF and other federations in an attempt to help the development and strengthening of football around the world at no cost in this case to the GFF. Four experts in the names of UEFA Assist Project Manager Joost de Wilt, Geoff Wilson and Marie Clerc as well as Eva Pasquier, were deployed to conduct this. The UEFA Assist team was ready and willing to not only build the capacity of the federation staff and the clubs but also provide the needed technical and financial support that would have subsequently led to the league being transformed from amateur to professional.

But whether it was lack of competence by individuals assigned to run the said project, a lack of interest, nonchalance or misplaced priority, there has been no explanation up to date from the GFF leadership as to why the UEFA Assist programme was abandoned. Obviously UEFA is in no way going to hand over a fat cheque without being part of the process.

It was through the same UEFA Assist Programme that the GFF was provided some mini tractors for field maintenance and other equipment which are probably unaccountable for or damaged because most stakeholders, including my humble self, do not remember seeing those machinery being deployed to the long list of incomplete pitches where millions of dalasis have been allegedly spent .

What is stopping the GFF from reaching out to the UEFA Assist team to help with the league professionalisation which the latter is willing to do at no cost to the GFF and would in fact be ready and willing to deploy professionals to The Gambia to help instead of choosing to hire a consultant who would obviously be hugely renumerated?

Could this be deemed as the GFF leadership running out of ideas, unable to even remember what is at their disposal or another way to waste resources into paying consultants?

What happened to the funds that were paid to consultants for the numerous failed projects?

Conventional wisdom has always dictated that leaders must not only be accountable to their people but have a vision and a roadmap to be able to identify the tools needed to follow the said roadmap in order to deliver as per the needs and yearnings of the electorate and the population in general. Good leadership in my opinion is the management of risks and opportunities. One could take a huge risk and turn it into a marvelous opportunity but equally have a marvelous opportunity and ruin it due to managerial incompetence. It is my fervent belief that UEFA presented the GFF with a marvelous opportunity in 2021 much to the delight of the clubs only for the said opportunity to be thrown out of the window with no explanations.

To conclude, leadership is an entrustment that must be discharged with humility, humanity, duty of care, accountability and a sense of direction. It therefore behooves every leader to take all necessary precautions to ensure these are non-negotiable. I humbly ask the GFF leadership to kindly answer the questions above and reach out to the UEFA Assist team to help with the league professionalisation. More importantly, they should plough the resources they intend to pay to any prospective consultant into the dilapidated fields where millions of Fifa Forward funds have been allegedly wasted.

The author, a former executive member of the GFF, is now the leader of Team Restore Confidence, an opposition group of stakeholders that unsuccessfully challenged the GFF in the 2022 elective congress.

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